Foster wants the All Blacks to hit the ground running in Mendoza
Needing to hit the ground running in the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship, the All Blacks are keen to soak up every bit of information, and confidence, from their opener against Argentina in Mendoza on Sunday (NZT).
Coach Ian Foster said the selection for the Test, which includes Damian McKenzie at first five-eighth with Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo'unga off the bench, Josh Lord at lock ahead of Brodie Retallick and wing Emoni Narawa to make his Test debut, was about continuing to develop combinations while also giving critical minutes to form players.
It was a horses-for-courses selection, he said.
"This is a big Test for us, and we're not thinking too far beyond that. We've never had our first Test of the year away from home for a long time, so it's been a challenge for us, particularly coming to Mendoza and a confident Argentinian team. We're going to have to put everything into it.
"We've still got a bit of building to be where we need to be for the World Cup. There's no better way to go into a World Cup than feeling confident about where you're at with your game. This is where the Rugby Championship becomes important and what's critical is that we build our way through this tournament so that we are adapting and growing."
He said that challenge was not just for the players; it was also for the management and coaches.
Argentina had been developing their game and had a desire to attack, and an uncommitted defence line would struggle against them. They were committed at the breakdown, where the battle often was with them.
"They're fiercely competitive at the breakdown. They've got some big boys who are hard to move, and if you don't win races into there, then it's a real battle, and so our focus is on the breakdown.
"We've also got to make sure we're smart with the ball. That we're attacking, we're looking where the space is and we don't run down avenues where there are a lot of Argentinian defenders. It's an area I know they'll target us."
Argentina would be confident. It was their only home game in the Championship, and with their wins over the All Blacks in each of the last two years, they would be confident.
"We're aware, and respectful, of that because we've learned the lessons when we weren't as respectful as we needed to be of their defensive work."
Foster said it was a reasonably settled All Blacks team considering where they finished last season, and he was delighted with how the side had come together.
He said the decision not to play lock Brodie Retallick was down to the chance it provided to give Josh Lord match time.
"It's really important for him to get some time. We've got a lot of faith in him and I'm sure he's excited about this game."
McKenzie was given the start at first five-eighths because he had been playing well. He had been out of the side for a year.
"I'm so impressed with the way he's come back and the best way for us to get him back feeling like he can contribute, and be part of this team and give him the chance to show how he can play, is to give him that opportunity when he was feeling confident and things were going well for him."
They had some luxury in the position with Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett.
"It's a vote of confidence in Damian. When you are out of the All Blacks for awhile there's always a bit of nerves and this is a great way for him to come in and hopefully play from a position of strength,"
Wing Emoni Narawa made a big impression on Foster and the coaches. He had trained exceptionally well, and during their time in Auckland, he looked calm and relaxed.
"We want him to go out there and enjoy himself. It's never going to be perfect in the first Test of the year, but gee, he's got some confidence at the moment."
Lock Sam Whitelock was progressing well with his Achilles tendon injury. It wasn't clear if he was a definite starter for next week's Test against South Africa.
"He's determined and tracking really well, he's not faraway at the moment. Whether he's right next week we'll make that decision early next week. He is trending in a positive direction which is great news."
MATCH DETAILS: All Blacks v Argentina, Sunday July 9, 7.10am NZT, Estadio Malvinas, Mendoza, Argentina. Live on Sky Sport NZ.
Team to take on Argentina in Mendoza pic.twitter.com/bihFPDrDIm— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 6, 2023